Lahore - Punjab education minister Rana Mashood Ahmad denied that the province’s more than 100,000 schools were shut because of militant threats.
Pakistan’s most populous province has ordered schools shut for five days and told 22.5 million students to stay at home - not because of security fears after gunmen attacked a university but because of cold weather, an official said on Tuesday.
Earlier AP reported the closure, citing security threats. It reported that a government memo obtained by the agency said there was intelligence reports that 13 Taleban fighters from neighbouring Afghanistan were planning suicide attacks on schools in Pakistan.
Punjab province Education Minister Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan said a large number of children were catching flu and pneumonia as temperatures fell to as low as four degrees Celsius in the capital, Lahore, and a severe shortage of gas left schools unable to heat themselves.
“Two days ago, parents complained about the harshness of weather and diseases to children,” Khan said.
“The meteorological office, too, told the government that the wave of extreme cold would continue for another three to four days. We took all stakeholders in confidence and made the decision to announce holidays.”
Khan denied that the province’s more than 100,000 government and private schools were shut because of militant threats, despite recent warnings that militants were planning to attack educational institutions.
A deadly assault by Pakistani Taleban gunmen on Bacha Khan University in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa last week has heightened concern about the threat to schools and colleges.
Schools in the northwest had closed the previous weekend, before the raid, after warnings of an attack.
Punjab shut its schools for two months after the Taleban massacred 134 children at an army-run school in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in December 2014.
Northern Pakistan’s winter can be particularly tough as the country’s chronic shortage of energy often leaves homes and schools without electricity and gas.